Sundress Picks: Best of Poetry Books of 2017

Like every bookworm, we love to ring in the new year with a new read. To help get your 2018 off to a great start, we asked our authors, editors, and staff to choose some of their favorite books published in the past year.

Here’s a list of our top choices for your consideration–and from all of us at Sundress Publications, have a warm and happy new year.

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Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

Whereas-bestof

Graywolf Press, available in paperback

“WHEREAS confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations.”

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Graywolf Press, available in paperback

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“Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Deadopens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality—the dangers experienced in skin, body, and blood—and a diagnosis of HIV positive. ‘some of us are killed / in pieces,’ Smith writes, ‘some of us all at once.’ Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing collection, one that confronts America where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.”

Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar

bestof-callingawolf

Alice James Books, available in paperback

“Akbar proves what books can do in his exceptional debut, which brings us along on his struggle with addiction, a dangerous comfort and soul-eating monster he addresses boldly (‘thinking if I called a wolf a wolf I might dull its fangs’). His work stands out among literature on the subject for a refreshingly unshowy honesty; Akbar runs full tilt emotionally but is never self-indulgent” (Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal, Starred Review)

Saudade by Traci Brimhall

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Copper Canyon Press, available in paperback

“Inspired by stories from her Brazilian-born mother, Traci Brimhall’s third collection—a lush and startling ‘autobiomythography’—is reminiscent of the rich imaginative worlds of Latin American magical realists. Set in the Brazilian Amazon, Saudade is one part ghost story, one part revival, and is populated by a colorful cast of characters and a recurring chorus of irreverent Marias.”

Surgical Wing by Kristin Robertson

Alice James Books, available in paperbackbestof-surgicalwing.png

“In Surgical Wing, surrealistic poems visit an experimental hospital ward, manifesting visions of winged angels and medical tests, as we bear witness to a doctor’s meddling and miracles. Robertson’s poems challenge the internal and external metamorphoses of the human condition and the juxtaposition between death and life by personifying the soul through images of birds.”

Hemming Flames by Patricia Colleen Murphy

Utah State University Press, available in print and ebook

bestof-hemmingflames “Throughout this haunting first collection, Patricia Colleen Murphy shows how familial mental illness, addiction, and grief can render even the most courageous person helpless. With depth of feeling, clarity of voice, and artful conflation of surrealist image and experience, she delivers vivid descriptions of soul-shaking events with objective narration, creating psychological portraits contained in sharp, bright language and image. With Plathian relentlessness, Hemming Flames explores the deepest reaches of family dysfunction through highly imaginative language and lines that carry even more emotional weight because they surprise and delight. In landscapes as varied as an Ohio back road, a Russian mental institution, a Korean national landmark, and the summit of Kilimanjaro, each poem sews a new stitch on the dark tapestry of a disturbed suburban family’s world.”

Sycamore

by Kathy Fagan

Milkweed Editions, available in print and ebook

bestof-sycamore“Meditative and richly written, this collection of poems by Kathy Fagan takes the sycamore as its inspiration―and delivers precise, luminous insights on lost love, nature, and the process of recovery.

“It is the season of separation & falling / Away,” Fagan writes. And so―like the abundance of summer diminishing to winter, and like the bark of the sycamore, which sheds to allow the tree’s expansion―the speaker of these poems documents a painful loss and tenuous rebirth, which take shape against a forested landscape. Black walnuts fall where no one can eat or smell them. Cottonwood sends out feverish signals of pollen. And everywhere are sycamores, informed by Fagan’s scientific and mythological research.

Spellbinding and ambitious, Sycamore is an important new work from a writer whose poems “gleam like pearls or slowly burning stones” (Philip Levine).”

Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey

Ecco, poetry, available in print and ebook

bestof-ordinarybeasts “The existential magnitude, deep intellect, and playful subversion of St. Thomas-born, Florida-raised poet Nicole Sealey’s work is restless in its empathic, succinct examination and lucid awareness of what it means to be human.

The ranging scope of inquiry undertaken in Ordinary Beast—at times philosophical, emotional, and experiential—is evident in each thrilling twist of image by the poet. In brilliant, often ironic lines that move from meditation to matter of fact in a single beat, Sealey’s voice is always awake to the natural world, to the pain and punishment of existence, to the origins and demises of humanity. Exploring notions of race, sexuality, gender, myth, history, and embodiment with profound understanding, Sealey’s is a poetry that refuses to turn a blind eye or deny. It is a poetry of daunting knowledge.”

Afterland: Poems by Mai Der Vang

Graywolf Press, available in paperback

bestof-afterland

“Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture’s ongoing resilience in exile. Many of these poems are written in the voices of those fleeing unbearable violence after U.S. forces recruited Hmong fighters in Laos in the Secret War against communism, only to abandon them after that war went awry. That history is little known, but the three hundred thousand Hmong now living in the United States are living proof of its aftermath. With poems of extraordinary force and grace, Afterland holds an original place in American poetry and lands with a sense of humanity saved, of outrage, of a deep tradition broken by war and ocean but still intact, remembered, and lived.”

Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith

Northwestern University Press, available in paperback and ebook

bestof-incendiaryart  “One of the most magnetic and esteemed poets in today’s literary landscape, Patricia Smith fearlessly confronts the tyranny against the black male body and the tenacious grief of mothers in her compelling new collection, Incendiary Art. She writes an exhaustive lament for mothers of the ‘dark magicians,’ and revisits the devastating murder of Emmett Till. These dynamic sequences serve as a backdrop for present-day racial calamities and calls for resistance. Smith embraces elaborate and eloquent language— ‘her gorgeous fallen son a horrid hidden / rot. Her tiny hand starts crushing roses—one by one / by one she wrecks the casket’s spray. It’s how she / mourns—a mother, still, despite the roar of thorns’— as she sharpens her unerring focus on incidents of national mayhem and mourning. Smith envisions, reenvisions, and ultimately reinvents the role of witness with an incendiary fusion of forms, including prose poems, ghazals, sestinas, and sonnets. With poems impossible to turn away from, one of America’s most electrifying writers reveals what is frightening, and what is revelatory, about history.”


Small Crimes
by Andrea Jurjevic

Anhinga Press, available in print

bestof-smallcrimes.png“Andrea Jurjevic’s Small Crimes begins during the Croatian war years of the early 1990’s.  In the midst of bombings, sniper shootings, and firing squads, the speaker of the poems manages to live an almost normal adolescence, thanks to her grit, her attachment to family, and her skepticism.  The book then moves to the postwar years and onward into America, which is not without its own perils.  This is a collection that is often dark but just as often beautiful. Jurjevic’s language crackles with energy, and she lingers lovingly over the intimate details of a life that is lived with the eyes wide open.”

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